At 8.06 this morning it was done: the House of Representatives passed the government’s Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, following its passage and amendment just after midnight in the Senate. Parliamentarians then got to go home for Christmas, having delivered the Immigration Minister extraordinary powers that in effect obliterate any further pretence that Australia regards asylum seekers as human beings.

The bill restored the failed Howard-era policy of temporary protection visas, a mechanism that actually increased boat arrivals when last attempted. Whether Clive Palmer seriously believes that there is a pathway to citizenship contained in a kind of homeopathic form within the legislation — or it merely suits its purposes to pretend there is — we don’t know, but Scott Morrison has been crystal clear that TPVs will never provide permanent protection.

But the bill goes much further, freeing Australia from any obligations associated with the Refugee Convention, including giving Morrison and his department — which has repeatedly demonstrated it is profoundly incompetent and resistant to the most basic forms of accountability — the power to return people to torture and persecution without judicial review.

That the passage of such a bill was only secured with the blatant use of blackmail, in which Morrison used detained children as hostages to be bartered for Senate compliance, says much about the wretched contents of the bill, about the complete amorality of the government and about the depths to which it has needed to sink in order to give itself a win on which to end a wretched year. That crossbench senators like Ricky Muir, Nick Xenophon and the PUPs gave in to such threats, however, is a reflection entirely on them. Their ostentatious anguish at having to deal with such a choice can’t hide the grim reality of their actions.

The bill is immoral, it’s bad policy, and it’s been passed using the lives of children as bargaining chips. The division lists in the Senate and the House of Representatives will be a roll call of shame in years to come.

Peter Fray

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